Thursday, May 27, 2010

clothes, lack thereof

How have I not heard a single word of praise for Venus Williams' French Open outfit so far? Suddenly everywhere on the Internet appears to have become a Daily Fail bulletin board, full of people shocked and disapproving and taking the opportunity, of course, to offload astonishing quantities of sexist drivel. [Let me not go into those extra-special observations about 'gorillas in lace,' because if I do I will be forced to break some keyboards before I can finish my sentence.]

Where are all the people with taste? A sense of humour? Flair? This dress is smart. It's kitschy and ironic. It's fun. It's bold and sexy -- do we have a problem with bold and sexy, Internet? You never mentioned this before to me. You should have said something when I made that topless Fabio Cannavaro picspam! [Or maybe you did and I didn't listen.] Let us agree not to have a problem with bold and sexy. So what is wrong with this outfit?

As far as I can tell, the problem is that photographers have gone overboard to find pictures of the dress flying up to reveal Venus Williams' skin-coloured underwear. And I do in fact mean underwear that is the colour of Venus Williams' skin, not the sort of colour that gets called 'nude' or 'flesh' even when Michelle Obama is wearing it.

In some of those photos, it does look at first sight as though Williams has nothing on underneath the dress. Will you deal with it? She does have something on. It's not her problem. It's your problem, if you want to make it a problem.

You think the outfit ugly, fine. I'm not saying it's the sort of Oscar de la Renta stuff that stylists make their clients wear on Hollywood awards nights that is universally loved and applauded and yawn yawn yawn. It is a dress that is certainly not lacking in self-awareness, and you can decide for yourself if you think that's a bad thing. But please remember that when you say things like this:

Anyone who looked at the cover of the daily programme at Roland Garros on Wednesday might have wondered whether they had mistakenly picked up a copy of a lingerie catalogue, with the front of the magazine dominated by an image of Venus Williams in black and red lace, wearing what appeared to be her negligee.

[stuffy torygraph source]

all you're really telling me is that you can't tell the difference between red lace and red lycra.

Guys. This frock is attention-grabbing on purpose. It is inviting comment on purpose. It is also, by the way, still secondary to the fact that she is playing pretty winning tennis - and let's not forget that no matter what Venus Williams was wearing, tennis media would have found a way to prioritise that narrative over her game, as they have been doing for about the length of her career. The truth is that Venus Williams has out-awesomed you. Please just admit this and step away from the keyboard.

And now, we can go back to talking about what we will do in the event of naked Diego Maradona.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Write The Future from Nalden on Vimeo.

Self-parody: it has finally spread from the football blogosphere to enter the mainstream. Writers, your work here is done.

I'm not sure I love this ad, although I laughed out loud at several points [Gael Garcia Bernal. Who else?] I do enjoy the fact that it cocks a snook at the cliches that make up so much of our non-lived experience of football - the tabloid characterisations and character assassinations, the unmanaged expectations of the media, the puzzling notion that the stepover is a radical footballing move, the borderline fetishised dewy-eyed depictions of how *~native~* people celebrate the hope-and-glory celebrations that are always happening somewhere else. The hot dancing girls. Woot.

Because so often all it takes is a good editor and a nice soundtrack. That is all it takes so much that it's sad how easy it is for a multi-national corporation to make ads that do put a helpless smile on your face, like this.

Given that in India, ads this summer have largely stuck to big brands putting out unspeakably racist commercials set in Africa that depict black Africans as cannibals in grass skirts (Castrol), primitive grunting kidnappers in grass skirts (Sprite), thirsty desert nomads (LMN), and possibly other outrageous things I haven't seen, it's kind of a relief to see, you know, some football. Even ironic football. Salaams, Mr IƱarritu.


Item: I have been so sad about Leonardo's totally unjust departure, even beating Juventus 3-0 has had no effect on me. When I own Milan, I will send a bouquet of eco-consciously grown roses to Leonardo every day, no matter where in the world he is.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

book review: moti nandy, 'striker/stopper'

Cross-posting this from my other blog; apologies if you run across it twice.

Striker, Stopper: Two Novellas, Moti Nandy, translated by Arunava Sinha

There is a section in A Season in Verona where Tim Parks imagines how the average footballer's career seems to be encircled practically from the outset by a tightening noose. In the opening paragraphs of his chapter 'Lecce' [noting this so that those of you who own a copy don't have to turn pages for hours trying to find it, the way I totally did not of course] he notes:

... By seventeen or eighteen they are playing in Serie C, or sitting on the bench in Serie B. Solemn men in heavy coats gamble on their future. They are bought and sold ... shunted up and down the length of the bel paese, Treviso, Taranto, Palermo, Turin. They know no one outside the world of football now. They hardly know what to say to a person who is not a player or a manager or a journalist. Or at least a fan. Is there anybody who is not a football fan? ...

The translator's dedication of these irresistible stories reads 'to East Bengal Club,' which satisfactorily answers the last question here. Parks came to mind as I read these novellas, written in 1970s Calcutta by Moti Nandy, veteran Bengali sports journalist - and novelist, and rendered into English beautifully and sympathetically by Arunava Sinha. One of them is about a young striker's future; the other hangs on an aging defender's past. And at what price? Football in the world of these novellas is not merely weighed in the balance against the civil opportunities of a regular life, like education and stability and honest relationships, all opportunities . No, what price the luxury of doing something you are born for, when families are starving - something Parks' young 21st century Italians have no notion of - and motherless children neglected for training? Nandy's stories evidently milked the problems of working-class Calcutta for all their worth, in narratives full of the drive and relish of great pulp. But those narratives also reflect a very Dickensian sense of righteousness and compassion for human dignity, and it resonates across the generations, across languages and cities.

But the sense comes by-and-by. Our heroes' stories are also full of screeching violins. The teenaged striker Prasoon refuses to buckle down to his little club Shobhabajar's demands, and so finds himself working a petrol pump on a night shift at one point, while he trains on his own in the hope of making it to a bigger club. And what should come rattling along the road one night but an Ambassador holding his teammates who have already sold out to the club's demands, now on their way to the India juniors training camp? Bring on the fricking orchestra, right? What about Kamal Guha's non-existent relationship with his teenage son, with the roots of its trouble in the fact that Kamal never made it back from a game on time to be with his dying wife? [And why not? The club held the telegram back because they needed him on the day. Oh yeah.]

The beauty of Nandy's writing is that it integrates these rather shopworn operatic conventions into a finely-wrought picture of the challenges of the sport: of how truly wearying and alienating the obsession can be, and how manipulative and traitorous the practice of it. Nandy's heroes actually do fight crime, in the form of Calcutta's abject football bureaucracy. Both novellas operate neatly within the real structure of the city's football: most of the action is set around two imaginary clubs, struggling relegation candidates Shobhabajar, and the mighty Juger Jatri, who are capable of running neck and neck with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Prasoon must lift himself from the scrabbling mediocrity of Shobhabajar to Jatri [a club where - drumroll - his father once played, and from which he was unfairly ejected after being accused of throwing a match]. Kamal Guha, who has descended from the heights of success with Jatri to a part-timer's role in Shobhabajar, must find a way to keep the club and himself afloat.

It is a corrupt world. The little clubs will fight to keep their best players from leaving, scrap and trade favours among themselves to stay afloat. The big ones will intimidate and bully the smaller ones for reasons of their own. Perhaps inescapably, the journeys of both young man and old mirror each other. If Prasoon, with all his ambition and integrity, must learn to be selfish - so selfish that he must eat even when his family cannot - then Guha's quest is that of a man who already knows that all things come to pass, and must sacrifice to achieve them anyway.

As someone says in Parks' book, 'How can you pay for something you hate so much?' But we know football can be grim - there's a living history that tells us so. We read it between the lines in stories of inflated salaries and dream moves. We may even experience it, in a minuscule way, when we participate in that grand ideal of suffering for the game from the stands. Melancholy and football joined hands, after all, around the first time someone decided to pass instead of dribble. Perhaps that is how the conventions of the happy ending in both novellas achieve a note of transcendence. Football still has the power to transform bitterness into joy - and it is extraordinary how steadfast that matter of belief can be. Perhaps the more mired it is in the sordid, the greater its evocation of romance, of a higher logic that can render all accounts balanced and all stories completed. It is a belief that can illuminate not just its honest and proud adherents, but the game itself. The joy of Nandy's stories is not the joy of winning a match - it is the deeper, steadier feeling that comes of looking at the league table at the end of the season, and finding your team where you want them to be.

* - I chose these pictures in spite of the fact there's a moment in one of the stories where a manager flies into a rage because a player suggests they play with a sweeper. 'You want me to play catenaccio!' he squawks. I thought it was sublime.